AFBI unveils Moira and Fintona grass varieties

editorial image

The Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) have announced the release of two new perennial ryegrass varieties, Moira and Fintona, from the Department of Agriculture (DARD) funded grass breeding programme at AFBI Loughgall.

These new high yielding varieties will be commercialised in spring 2016 by Barenbrug UK Ltd who have been commercial partners of the Loughgall programme since 1991.

Moira and Fintona have taken almost 15 years to develop, and are the latest addition to the extensive portfolio of high performance varieties which have been bred by AFBI, specifically for use on local farms.

Moira

Moira, an intermediate diploid perennial ryegrass, has been developed as a direct replacement for Spelga which has been a very popular variety on local farms since its release in 1995. Moira is very similar in type to Spelga, providing excellent spring growth. In the current DARD Recommended List it has excellent total silage yields, 8% higher than Spelga, with similar performance across the UK and Republic of Ireland. The parentage of Moira includes Dutch material, which has been acquired through the link with Barenbrug.

“Due to the excellent performance of Moira in Great Britain, as well as in Northern Ireland, we anticipate a strong commercial demand for seed of this exciting new variety,” says David Linton, NI area manager for Barenbrug UK Ltd.

Fintona

Fintona, a new intermediate tetraploid perennial, was produced by AFBI at Loughgall out of a cross between two existing intermediate tetraploid varieties, Malone and Dunluce. Fintona combines favourable attributes of both parents and sets a new standard in forage production for intermediate tetraploid perennials in UK and Republic of Ireland Recommended List trials.

Figure 1 shows the total silage yield of Fintona in NI Recommended List trials, in comparison with three other AFBI varieties which are already performing well in grazing and silage mixtures. The data show that Fintona, which was added to the DARD Recommended List in 2014, has improved 1st and 2nd cut silage yields over Dunluce (listed 2005), Malone (2006) and Seagoe(2011). It is expected that Fintona will be a very valuable variety for farms which aim to maximise silage yield on a two-cut system.

New Approach

The selection procedures used by AFBI in breeding Moira and Fintona have been developed by close cooperation with other breeding stations in the Barenbrug group. This has allowed access to novel breeding material with very favourable attributes such as high spring growth, disease resistance and winter hardiness. To support the trials at Loughgall, the selection and evaluation process was carried out on Barenbrug sites in England, France and the Netherlands. AFBI has found that data from these other trials is very valuable in identifying the best parental stocks, as diseases and winter damage are usually much more extreme than in Northern Ireland. Of the hundreds of new crosses made at Loughgall, only a few are ever taken to the stage of commercial development, representing a very long and significant investment by DARD and Barenbrug in the AFBI grass breeding programme.

Ongoing Process

When the grass breeding programme was set up at Loughgall 63 years ago, the focus was primarily on producing higher yielding varieties. Analysis of data from trials which were maintained under the same management over 30 years, has shown a gradual increase in production equivalent to about 0.4% per annum. So this means that the best varieties, such as Moira and Fintona, which are being commercialised now, are at least 24% higher yielding than the best available varieties six decades ago. So the suggestion that old varieties which were available 30 plus years ago, had higher yield potential than those available today, is unfounded.

Focusing on Quality

In addition to the attention paid to increasing yield, considerable focus is being paid by AFBI in selecting for improved digestibility. This has involved close attention at each stage of the programme to selecting leafy swards which produce low levels of stem in mid-summer regrowth. In order to assess digestibility, hundreds of grass samples are processed annually through the Herbage Quality Laboratory at Loughgall. To process samples in a cost effective way, AFBI has invested in Near Infra Red Technology (NIRS) which can be used to screen hundreds of new breeding lines. Recently a NIRS unit was installed on a plot harvester at Loughgall and this will speed up the evaluation process, allowing hundreds of plots to be harvested and assessed simultaneously.

Variety Portfolio

The result of this concerted research effort is a portfolio of new AFBI bred varieties which are already giving great performance on local farms. These include Clanrye and Seagoe which were launched at the Winter Fair in 2014 and Glenariff launched last year. AFBI has further new varieties in the pipeline, which are being multiplied by Barenbrug UK at present. These include new intermediate tetraploids Ramore and Caledon as well as a new late diploid, Glenarm. At an earlier stage of development are Glasker, Carland and Gosford, which are also expected to be developed for the local market.

To the Future

Grass is the most important crop on farms in Northern Ireland and one of the most efficient ways of improving productivity from grass is to breed varieties which are well adapted to local farming conditions. Subsequently, continued investment by DARD and Barenbrug in the AFBI Loughgall programme, will ensure a steady supply of new varieties like Moira and Fintona which can meet the ever changing demands of the grassland industry.

When choosing new varieties for use in Northern Ireland, AFBI advise farmers to consult the DARD Recommended List of Grass and Clover. Commercial enquiries for seed of all AFBI bred grasses should be made with David Linton, area manager, Barenbrug UK Ltd., Tel. 07740 063315.